This paper will study how and why caste became so crucial to Ram Manohar Lohia’s politics. This would be understood by tracing the different dimensions of some of his theoretical and political activities, specifically on caste and even otherwise. So, for example, how Lohia drew his own grand historical narrative through Wheel of History, that contextualised caste in a certain way, or how this understanding of caste also allowed him to incorporate other sites of power in his social theory for India, that subsequently shaped his politics.
Of course, such an attempt thrives on an assessment of the chronology of some of Lohia’s positions over the course of his life. Doing so, allows one to recognise the context and influences that shaped Lohia’s perspective, in this case, on caste. It is so interesting then, to realise that his politics on caste was framed in post-independent India, that period of time when celebrations welcoming a new nation were getting over and it was time to deal with some real issues. Lohia, an important constituent of the Congress Socialist Party, and a trusted aide of Jawaharlal Nehru so far in the nationalist struggle, suddenly grew inimical to him and the Congress party. The discord is traced back to the struggle for civil rights of Goans against the Portugese administration in 1946 and the general complain that the satyagraha movement envisaged by Lohia was not reaping fruits due to disinterest of the Executive Committee of Congress, that comprised all Brahmins. Lohia, even as he tried to being in new members from other castes, lamented that he could not achieve much success. This episode brought him face to face with the harsh reality of how deep rooted casteism is in Indian social fabric and how difficult and perplexing it is to uproot it. Post independence, in 1948, socialists in Congress decide to go their own way, though there were different streams amongst them on the question of cordiality with Congress. In 1951, caste once again became important in the political arena, when the Directive Principle of State Policy to provide any special provision for the educational, economic or social advancement of any backward class of citizen was invoked and an amendment to Article 15(3) was brought about so that such measures by the state could not be challenged on ground of being discriminatory in the future. The Indian state was now in the midst of dealing with these issues openly. The Kalekar Backward Caste Commission recommendations too were rejected by Nehru and his ruling Congress government in 1955 on grounds that caste is not a sufficient index for determining backwardness and that caste based reservations had the potency to reinforcing these structures. For Lohia, this aversion to deal with caste and to regard everything as an economic problem by Congress was construed as emanating from its elitist leadership, which wanted to continue with the present structures, to maintain their hegemony.
Lohia’s generic understanding of caste and class.
The first general elections of free India were won by Congress in full majority. Soon after, Nehru took up vociferous centralised economic planning, assuming that economic progress will be a remedy to social ailments of the Indian society. His style of governance showed signs of besottedness with the Soviet Union kind of State-sponsored economic development project and sharp influence of Euro-centric norms of centralisation of power. For Lohia, this was an inadequate outlook to deal with caste, and the larger Indian social circumstances. Thus, Lohia was sceptical of both a communist and liberalist solution for the country. He reasoned that both these perspectives were Euro-centric in nature. The model of socialism in Soviet Union was no different from capitalism, since it also stressed heavy, rigorous industrialisation by a leviathan State, instead of private capitalist players. He had earlier itself,...